CULINARY POINT OF VIEW
In this new column and series—Culinary Point of View—we interview a different chef every month to discover the latest in culinary trends and foodservice experience. For the debut, we talked with Jacques Gautier, Chef and Owner of Palo Santo and Fort Reno in Brooklyn, N.Y. Drawing his influence from Caribbean family roots and his extensive travels, Gautier is able to create Latin Market dishes for Palo Santo that maintain their original essence, but are infused with a new take on ingredients, technique, and presentation. Palo Santo is in its seventh year of operation, and Fort Reno—his new barbeque joint down the street—is in its second year, giving Chef Gautier a solid foothold in Brooklyn’s thriving dining scene.
Here’s an excerpt from the interview with Chef Gautier. (View the full interivew online here)
Q: During the recession, did you experience any kind of pullback from visitors to your restaurant, Palo Santo?
A: Oh, yeah, everybody did. People spend less money during hard times. We have done the same number of covers [number of diners served] but with a lower check average.
Q: Is that starting to come back for you guys or are you still kind of in a lull?
A: No, it hasn’t. We have just found ways to adapt. We’ve taken more private parties. We have also cut back on expenses and done a little more PR. So, we are getting a few more people in the chairs in different ways.
Q: Let’s talk about the Latin cuisine that you serve at Palo Santo. Obviously you’ve got that in your heritage, your background. Can you talk a little bit about how you refi ned what Palo Santo serves?
A: Sure. My dad’s from the Caribbean and I have family as far as Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. And I traveled a lot. The cuisine that we cook at Palo Santo could probably be described as eclectic Latin, Latin market cooking, or pan Latin— that’s what it’s kind of ended up being labeled as. We take a little bit of influence from all over Latin America and the Caribbean.
Q: I’ve read that you also work with N.Y. City school kids. What kind of activities do you do with them?
A: I have a rooftop garden at Palo Santo and I take in classes of public school kids up to see the rooftop garden. And we have posted field trips at Palo Santo with public school kids.
Q: What kind of response do you get from kids when you talk to them about food and nutrition and where their food comes from?
A: Everything just seems so new for them. Like I said, we have a rooftop garden, and last year I took a few classes of high school kids up to our rooftop garden. It’s just a very, very small kind of miniature urban farm and for the majority of them it was the only time they’d ever seen food being grown. They grew up in the city; they didn’t grow up on farms, and so if nobody ever took them out to Long Island or upstate to see a farm, then they never would’ve seen that, and it’s not present in our public school system. Food is just something so important, but yet the production of it is almost forgotten.
is Senior Digital Editor of Food Technology magazine